Olivia Munn Says Breast Cancer Treatment Put Her In Medically-Induced Menopause

Olivia Munn is sharing more details about her cancer journey, including how she’s doing now. Among many things, the 43-year-old revealed that she’s now in medically-induced menopause as part of her treatment.

As you might remember, Olivia shared in March that she was diagnosed with Luminal B breast cancer after her doctor gave her a breast cancer assessment score. That led to testing, which detected her cancer. Since then, Olivia told People that she’s had four surgeries in 10 months, including a double mastectomy and breast reconstruction surgery.

“There’s so much information, and you’re making these huge decisions for the rest of your life,” she told People. “I really tried to be prepared, but the truth is that nothing could prepare me for what I would feel like, what it would look like and how I would handle it emotionally. It was a lot tougher than I expected.”

In November, she started hormone suppression therapy to lower her risk of having cancer again. That, she says, has put her into medically-induced menopause, which has caused intense symptoms. “I’m constantly thinking it’s hot, my hair is thinning, and I’m tired a lot,” she said. Still Olivia said that she’s “grateful that I was given the opportunity to fight.”

Meet the Experts: Tracy O’Connor, M.D., a breast oncologist at Moffitt Cancer Center. Jessica Shepherd, M.D., an ob-gyn based in Texas. G. Thomas Ruiz, M.D., is the lead ob-gyn at MemorialCare Orange Coast Medical Center in Fountain Valley, California. Jennifer Wider, M.D. is a women's health expert.

But what is medically-induced menopause, and how does it work? Here’s what you need to know.

What is medically-induced menopause, and why does it happen?

Medically-induced menopause is a treatment that uses medication to put a woman into menopause, explains Tracy O’Connor, M.D., a breast oncologist at Moffitt Cancer Center. “It’s often used for hormone-sensitive breast cancer, and it’s a form of hormone therapy,” she says.

Medically-induced menopause is an anti-estrogen therapy that blocks the release of luteinizing hormone from the pituitary gland in the brain, O’Connor says. “That stops the ovaries from making estrogen and helps to reduce the risk of cancer recurrence in premenopausal women with hormone-sensitive cancers,” she says.

Technically, the term can apply to other situations. "Medically-induced menopause is when medications such as chemotherapy, radiation therapy or medications that suppress hormones specific to estrogen are used," says women’s health expert Jessica Shepherd, M.D., an ob/gyn in Texas and author of the upcoming book on menopause, Generation M. However, Olivia told People that she didn't have radiation or chemotherapy.

What drugs are used for medically-induced menopause?

Goserelin (Xoladex) is a common type of hormone therapy for medically-induced menopause, O’Connor says. “It’s an injection given under the skin of the abdomen,” she says.

The injection is given once a month and it’s usually administered by a nurse in a medical setting at an oncologist’s office, O’Connor says.

However, there are other luteinizing hormone blockers that can also do the same thing, says G. Thomas Ruiz, M.D.,lead ob/gyn at MemorialCare Orange Coast Medical Center in Fountain Valley, CA.

What are the symptoms of medically-induced menopause?

“The symptoms are the same as natural menopause,” Ruiz says. “Women get the exact same type of hot flashes, night sweats, vaginal dryness, insomnia…anything associated with natural menopause symptoms, they go through.” (Olivia listed hair thinning, fatigue, and feeling hot as her symptoms.)

O’Connor points out that this treatment is no joke. “These therapies can be difficult for young women,” she says.

How long does medically-induced menopause last?

It lasts for as long as women have the treatment. “It can be for up to five years,” O’Connor says.

At that point, doctors would reassess the treatment plan with the patient based on risk. Some might consider having their ovaries removed, which would also put them into menopause, says women's health expert Jennifer Wider, M.D. "Surgical removal of ovaries causes a permanent menopause—medication-induced can last as long as the meds are taken," she says.

Many women may already be in natural menopause after five years, which means they can stop the treatment, Ruiz says.

O’Connor stresses that this is hard for many young women to go through. “But it’s an established treatment for hormone-sensitive breast cancer that does improve outcomes,” she says.

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